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Food and Drink

Norway - Food and Drink

Traditionally, Norway had limited access to food for much of the year. The Inuit peoples depended heavily on fishing and hunting. Whales, seals and game were essential foods to feed families. The Caucasian settled people grew what they could in the summer lowlands, and used higher pasture lands to fatten their livestock while the weather was good. Cheese and salted meat helped them survive the winters, as did fishing and game hunting. Any modern visitor at a museum exhibition about traditional life and food in Norway will be struck by its scarcity and limited variety.

Whale meat has been eaten in Norway for centuries, but is no longer a regular dish. It is still available for sale today, usually as tinned meat. But it must not be taken out of Norway, even if a shop assistant tells you differently. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, importation to the UK will lead to a maximum fine of £5,000 and the possibility of a prison sentence. There are a number of US wildlife trade laws which could lead to your arrest for importing whalemeat.

Today, Norway imports most of its food. A westernised diet is normal and food is plentiful, though imports are often expensive. However, there is a great public appetite for organic food and local foods. These “kortreist” (or “short-travelled”) foods have a lower carbon footprint than imports.

Lamb dishes are popular at Easter. Early potatoes, asparagus and wild garlic start to appear in late Spring. Some of the potatoes are made into a dumpling, called Raspeball. This has similarities to the German potato dumplings but is considered almost a national Norwegian dish. It goes well with the salted meat which would have traditionally supported families through a difficult winter.

Cured mutton and pork is served cold during the summer, accompanied by salads, sour cream and flatbread.

Norwegians enjoy eating fresh fish. Herring and the Norwegian Arctic cod called “Skrei”, which is premium fish line-caught in the Lofoten area, is always in demand. In the summer, fish such as herring is accompanied by cucumber salad, sour cream and potatoes.

Fresh crab is delicious when in season. This occurs earlier in the south than the north. Southern Norway’s crab season happens in the summer, but Western Norway enjoys it in early autumn. Crab will normally be cooked and then served with lettuce, lemon, mayonnaise and fresh white bread. Some people ask their friends round for a crab party, called a"krabbefest".

Much of the fresh fish and seafood is best in the winter, when flavour and quality is at its highest. This includes prawns, scallops, blue mussels, langoustines and lobsters.

Norwegian fishermen catch so much quality fish and seafood that the country is the second largest exporter in this global industry.

There are now more than 150 Norwegian cheesemakers. They make a huge range of speciality products from local sources of cow and goats milk.

There is a vast array of different breads that can be purchased, to satisfy all tastes and purposes. Bread is likely to form some part of breakfast, lunch and dinner, or to be an accompaniment to a savoury side dish.

In early summertime, rhubarb will be flourishing in kitchen gardens. Later, blueberries will appear across the country’s forests. Keen gardeners will grow strawberries and cherries. By autumn rowan-berries, apples, pears and plums will be ready for harvesting. Mushrooms can be gathered, with care, from the forests.

Barbeques are a popular treat for the summertime. Fish, meat and poultry are consumed usually at a social gathering. At this time of year drinking beer in a pub garden is also popular. Called “utepils”, it translates as “outdoor beer”.

Norway enjoys a number of celebration days during summer. Cakes are a nice treat on these occasions. A later celebration day occurs on the last Thursday in September, when “Fårikål” (literally “mutton in cabbage”, pronounced “forrycall”) is served. The national dish of Norway, it starts with cuts of mutton on the bone. They are placed in a big pan, along with potatoes, cabbage and a liberal dose of whole peppercorns. The ingredients are then slowly cooked to create a delicious type of casserole.

The harvest thanksgiving feast of "høsttakkefest" has been celebrated in Norway for centuries. It was a way to appreciate the bounty at harvesting time, and to mark the movement of livestock from the high level pastures down to the protected areas for winter. It also became bound in religious celebration, as part of the Feast of Archangel Michael. American expats living in Norway celebrate their own Thanksgiving with turkeys, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. They often invite their local Norwegian friends to join them.

In the run up to Christmas, or “jul”, Norwegians will stock up on the ingredients for dishes based around fish, mutton, pork and venison. “Smalahove” (sheep’s head), “lutefisk” (cod soaked in lye) and pinnekjøtt (dried, salted and steamed sheep ribs) are traditional Norwegian dishes still enjoyed at Christmas today. In early December at least seven different kinds of cookies will be baked to start off the Christmas period. Preparing the house, buying gifts and visiting choral concerts make December a busy time. Christmas Day itself is celebrated on 24th December - and not on 25th like many other Christian countries. A big family meal is followed by opening gifts under the Christmas tree. New Year’s Eve brings a climatic end to a long festive period which brightens the depths of winter.

Alcohol in Norway is very expensive. You can expect to pay $6-10 for each pint of beer in a bar. Part of this is due to import costs, but taxation also plays a heavy part. Local ciders are produced in Norway, including interesting ranges such as the pear ciders you can buy in a can. Micro-breweries introduce interesting local ranges of beer.

All wine is imported, but you may only bring in six bottles for your personal consumption.

Alcohol for consumption outside licensed premises may not be sold in a normal shop and is only available in a state run outlet. They are closed on Sundays, though you can still be served alcohol in bars and restaurants.

Norway is one of the three countries with the heaviest consumption of coffee. It can be easily obtained in any area and usually a good selection is on offer.

Tap water is safe to drink in Norway. There is no need to buy bottled water.

Tapas, Thai and Chinese restaurants can be found in many parts of Norway. They can be a more affordable place to eat than a traditional Norwegian restaurant. Many pubs also serve food which can be another more affordable option for eating out.

The only place where tipping is normal in Norway is in a restaurant or bar which serves food. It is entirely discretionary to reward good service. Anywhere between 5-15% is acceptable.

Grocery stores are open until late; they often close between 10pm and 11pm each night. In most of the country stores will be closed on Sundays. The exception is in tourist areas during the summer season, and in the city centres.

The Norwegian law does not tolerate recreational drug use and law enforcement agencies will not turn a blind eye to small amounts of illegal drug possession for personal use. Heavy fines and imprisonment are very real possibilities for even small quantities of illegal or recreational drugs.

Do not drive after consuming any alcoholic beverage in Norway. The legal limit is reached at just 0.2mg per 1 litre of blood, well below the 0.5mg limit present in most of Europe and 0.8mg in the US and most countries of the UK. The fines for tiny amounts of alcohol present in your bloodstream will cost more than a month’s salary, whilst 0.5mg and above will often incur a prison sentence.

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